UK university dropout rate rises for third year in a row

Hesa data show 6.4 per cent of young undergraduates did not progress into second year in 2015-16

March 8, 2018
Exit sign

The proportion of young UK students dropping out of higher education before their second year has increased for the third year in a row.

Data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency on 8 March show that 6.4 per cent of undergraduates aged under 21 dropped out during their first year in 2015-16, up from 6.2 per cent the year before and 6 per cent in 2013-14.

Dropout rates had been steadily decreasing in the three years before that, having hovered between 7 and 8 per cent during the century’s first decade, and the latest figures could trigger concern that the increase in tuition fees in England and other parts in the UK in 2012-13 may be impacting students’ decisions about whether to stay in higher education.

However, the Hesa data show a decline in the dropout rate for young students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, from 8.8 per cent in 2014-15 to 8.6 per cent in 2015-16.

Hesa dropout data

They also reveal widespread variation in institutional performance: the highest dropout rate was reported at London Metropolitan University, where nearly one in five (19.5 per cent) young UK undergraduates did not progress into the second year.

This was followed by the University of Bolton (17 per cent), Wrexham Glyndwr University and Middlesex University (both 16.4 per cent). These four institutions were among 12 providers to have a dropout rate significantly above what would be expected according to their Hesa benchmark, which reflects the UK average, adjusted for each institution’s specific characteristics, such as location or students’ background.

The lowest dropout rates were reported by the universities of Cambridge (0.8 per cent) and Oxford (1.1. per cent).

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